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Four women clad in shiny turquoise gowns and eye-popping green curly wigs sat interspersed in the seats at The Old Globe’s outdoor Lowell Davies Festival Theater this afternoon. The women are no strangers to the theater. But usually they’re raising money, attending social functions or otherwise boosting the life of the Globe.
But as they don these costumes — applying varying degrees of undergarment strategy, one confides — they become the sirens tempting Odysseus to steer his boat into the cliffs.
Today is Day Two of the technical rehearsals for the theater’s new “Odyssey” production. The play opens Friday. It closes Sunday. That means any kinks have to get worked out, like, yesterday. Besides today (a long today that lasts far into tonight), the ensemble just has one dress rehearsal with everyone tomorrow, and then it’s time to put on the show.
“It’s go time,” said director Lear deBessonet, a bit unbelievingly.
We’ve been following this play as it gets closer, intrigued especially by this intersection between the Globe as an institution and the community groups it involved in this process. The theater hired director Lear deBessonet and composer and lyricist Todd Almond to come up with a musical theater piece that could involve a slew of San Diego community members and institutions as well as professional actors. It feels like more than a month since the potluck dinner that kicked off the “Odyssey,” which involves a cast of 181 pulled from auditions at the Jackie Robinson YMCA, local high schools, a couple of dance troupes and a club for Globe supporters, just to name a few.
This afternoon, the section of the stage that moves up and down wasn’t working quite right. So the sirens, who must ride the lift up and down while beckoning to Odysseus, were sitting in the seats while a few crew members hopped on stage to fix it.
Meanwhile, the onstage musicians had to move their stuff, and a few wires became unhooked. That meant redoing some of the sound check to make sure they could hear all of the instruments.
While this was sucking up some of the rehearsal time, deBessonet didn’t want to waste a minute. She and a few other crew members practiced with Alvin Crawford, the professional actor playing Odysseus, to experiment with his tear-away clothing that would reveal a white toga underneath.
As they ripped off his pink Hawaiian shirt and khaki-colored pants, an assistant director explained to me the clothing is held together with magnets.
DeBessonet said yesterday she was running around, stressed out, when someone stopped her, saying it was clear from the looks on the community members’ faces that they were having the “time of their lives.”
She said it was an important, clarifying intervention. Everyone who does theater for a living in this production once had something grab him or her and cause them to imagine a life in drama.
“In a normal tech, there are very few moments of collective awe,” she said. “Even a special effect or something — it happens, and we say, ‘Oh, there’s that thing.’”
But here, with 181 people involved, many of whom who’ve never come to the Globe before, have perhaps never been in a play before, those bits of theater magic elicit uncontrollable applause. Or shrieks from the Junior Theatre kids who’ll ride in a box up through the stage.
When deBessonet explained to three kids that they’d be the ones to do that, they couldn’t contain themselves. One said, “What?! Can I tell my mom?”
But the excitement only grew when they, in the theater for the first time this week, saw how the mechanics would work.
“I was NOT expecting that!” one of them screeched in joy.
“It’s a reminder of what it is that we do in the first place,” deBessonet said.
After a little more than an hour, the stage trapdoor was fixed. The women playing the sirens entered as Odysseus’s men mimed rowing the boat.
The women ascended the stage, shooting sultry glances at Odysseus, flitting their green-glove-clad fingers flirtatiously.
They sashayed onto the lift and began their choreographed gestures.
“Now we have to let go?” one of the sirens asked, not quite trusting the bar’s sturdiness.
From the middle of the seats came deBessonet’s assurance: “Only with one hand at a time.”
Catch Up on Our “Odyssey” Coverage
• The first official get-together was a potluck dinner.
• The blackout pushed one rehearsal outdoors.
• Director Lear deBessonet told the group to imagine the individual personality they’re playing, all of whom combined make up the town.
• The cast of 181 comprises newbies and lifers, including the woman for whose husband the Globe’s outdoor stage is named.
• Being at the rehearsal where the St. Stephen’s church choir joined the ensemble for the first time made me wonder about all of the other magic that gets created in Balboa Park’s basements.
• VIDEO: St. Stephen’s church choir joined the rehearsal to become the voice of Athena.
I’m Kelly Bennett, the arts editor for VOSD. You can reach me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or 619.325.0531.
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